Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Heading to Houston

Here’s my piece on that great city in the Houston Chronicle. Incidentally, I will appear in Houston with Mayor Bill White on Thursday afternoon for an event co-hosted by the Houston Arts Alliance and the Greater Houston Partnership.

Pundits are fond of comparing Americans to Romans and forecasting our imminent fall. The plain truth is that we're living up to the reputation. But as we enter the death spiral of our civilization, we also stand poised for rebirth. This is the end of the end, and the beginning of the beginning. In other words, this is what it looks like right before a renaissance.

In the post-industrial world, we were defined by what we consumed. Owning things — a home, a nice car — became the predominant way of creating meaning in life. Now, as our financial markets reel, money no longer holds the same value. Fear and emptiness are adjacent lots in this crisis.

Seismic shifts in the way we create meaning are reorganizing our work, leisure and belief systems; in essence, our culture. In this environment, the smartest way forward is to look within the culture and discover ways to harness its creative power to ignite a rebirth. Read more...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Gaming Sponsors Gone Wild?

With the number of gamers exploding, brands are working hard to insert themselves into the environment in just the right way. It's a delicate business. So I was bemused to learn about one sponsor foray into Rock Band. Blogger Matt Ellis reviews games and during his test drive of Rock Band 2 he encountered this message:

Hot Topic would like to sponsor your band! They would also like you to play Paramore’s ‘That’s What You Get’ instead of the song you were planning on performing. Play this song instead and Hot Topic will start selling your merchandise. You’ll make more money, but unfortunately some of your fans will see this as selling out and will abandon you.’

He declined, of course. But the offer kept popping up, each time worded a little differently. He finally relented, accepted Hot Topic's offer to sponsor his band and indeed Matt lost a chunk of fans. Sometime later, he reported that Hot Topic's sponsorship was again modified for PS3.

Here's Matt's recap:

1. The game has an offer that is impossible to refuse

2. The offer is universally bad for your virtual band

3. Included in the offer is a sly jab at corporate sponsorship

4. The player is warned that this will adversely affect fan base

When the game comes out for PS3, this changes to:

1. The game has an offer that is impossible to refuse

2. The offer is universally bad for your virtual band

3. A lame excuse is offered for why you’re missing fans

Here's my take--having only read Matt's review and not played the game myself:

The "indie" culture is rebellious. It's based on creative competition, not conformity. The goal of any sponsorship is to win hearts and minds by enhancing the user experience, or making a great experience possible. In Matt's scenario, the sponsor undermines the player's experience. Wild.

Okay, so Hot Topic is presumably doing market research here. Right? Otherwise, to interrupt and then punish a user for affiliating with the sponsor's brand is an act of self-destruction. Or it's a deal without a decent contract.

Am I missing something?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Corporate Philanthropy Up at Wells Fargo Despite Economy

Despite dismal news on Wall Street, Wells Fargo’s Bay Area giving jumped 21 percent to $12 million through the third quarter of 2008. This may have a lot to do with its desire to "talk the talk" as it grows the charitable trust services arm created for wealthy individuals who want to better manage their giving. So for Wells Fargo, philanthropy is smart money well spent.

Overall, the San Francisco bank gave $78.9 million to 10,000 nonprofits through the third quarter, setting it on track to increase its company-wide philanthropy by more than 10 percent this year. Last year, Wells Fargo donated $14.4 million to area nonprofits, and is on track to give even more this year.

Wells Fargo employees are also feeling philanthropic. This year’s Community Support Campaign, essentially charitable giving by Wells Fargo employees, was a record $6.3 million. The campaign closed on Friday, but a few last gifts continue to trickle in. About 9,700 Wells employees have contributed.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Do Breasts Make the Woman? My Big Reveal

October is breast cancer awareness month, and this year I honored the month by attending the Y-Me Annual Gala. Like most people, I have been to enough of these soirees to find them vaguely fun and often inspiring, but never surprising. But this event was different, not because anything unexpected occurred, but because I was different. For the first time in my adult life, I wore a revealing neckline. Call it ironic or fitting, I'll let you decide.
When it comes to fashion, I've always erred on the side of caution. I prefer tailored suits and cozy sweaters to the big reveal. But the drapery has for years hidden one of my best assets. I come from a long line of Irish women with shapely gams and architecturally sound declotte. My mother has a photo of herself walking arm-in-arm with her sisters back in the 1940's and heaven help us, bombshells all of them. But not a hint of cleavage in sight.

It was by default that I overcame the notion that disgression is the better part of vavoom. Opting not to buy a new dress in these times, I resurrected an evening gown from the far reaches of my closet that I hadn't worn in ten years. Let me tell you, I felt immense relief when the zipper complied. It still fit me, albeit snugly. But I couldn't find the little jacket that goes with it--the one that sheaths the girls! I went three rounds with my closet until finally, collapsing in a heap of frustration and mussed hair, I caved. I would have to put them out there.

Well, it felt great. It was empowering, to be honest. So much so that I posted a photo of me in the dress on Facebook. But it also gave me pause. They've always been there--a very private, very hidden part of me. I've never exploited them to advantage, nor offered them up as a part of some package marked: "sexy female". They didn't help me achieve anything in life beyond being a good mother. But I like to think they contribute to the well-rounded woman I am.

So, as Breast Cancer Awareness month concludes, I now understand why my girlfriend, having lost her sister to breast cancer found a lump in her own and resolutely directed her doctor to, "Take them both off." When I tried to suggest something less extreme, she told me what I now accept as truth: "I want to be healthy. I don't want to be afraid of my own breasts. They don't make me and they won't break me."

Here, here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wall Street Wants a Christmas Bonus

I've begun thinking about how to reward my stellar team this holiday season. It's never anything lavish, but I work hard to make it meaningful. So naturally, I was horrified to read Bob Reed's blog about the bonuses my tax dollars will be used for to reward Wall Street brokers. Bob, a seasoned business reporter and inveterate straight shooter says it's not clear yet how deep the "bonus pool" will be. One estimate of Wall Street pay, bonus and related costs goes up to $70 billion this year. Then there is Goldman which is poised to hand out about $11 billion in compensation and bonuses. Morgan Stanley plans to "spread the wealth" to the tune of nearly $10 billion of our money.

Hold your horses. This is a new era. The RenGen will demand a say. And the virtual network they built for the presidential election can live beyond the election.

I'm picturing a U.S. version of the UK-based organization They Work For You that has amplified thousands voices to let elected officials know who's the boss. So, too, for Wall Street. If they take our money...they work for us, no? So, hands off the beefy bonus packages.


You may want to crib from Bob's blog to drop an email to your legislator to say that your performance review of Wall St. would not indicate a bonus.

Hat tip to Bob Reed.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Singapore Companies Sponsor More Art and Culture

In Singapore, food-related companies have replaced banks as the country's top arts sponsors. According the the National Arts Council in Singapore, arts groups have been turning to non-traditional supporters of the arts. Food companies such as curry puff chain Old Chang Kee, retail organizations and hotels are connecting with cultural consumers to enhance the brand experience and appeal to the 'sensualist' side of these consumers. Arts sponsorship in Singapore hit a new high last year, reaching a total of $37.4 million from 291 sponsors, up from $33.5 million from 265 contributors in 2006.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Consumer Retreat: Wiseman's List of Stress Busters

What do the National Research Federation's (NRF) holiday sales forecast, and a British psychologist's research on stress reduction have in common? Both are evidence of consumer retreat from the marketplace.

Psychologist Richard Wiseman applied his research on stress busting by designing a stress-free room. To accompany the installation, he offered up the following tips for stress busting. Note, few of them cost anything, save the music and lavender. The NRF is forecasting the worst holiday shopping season in 25 years.. It's not just the credit crunch at work here. Consumers are moving away from identities acquired "off-the-shelf" and gravitating toward those derived from the natural world, sensory-laden experiences and human connection.

Dr. Wiseman's Stress busting tips:

1) Head for the countryside. Research shows that spending around thirty minutes in green and quiet surroundings will make you feel significantly more relaxed.

2) Listen to soothing music. Listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, a relaxation tape, or nature sounds lowers your blood pressure.

3) Carry out a relaxation exercise. Starting at your toes and working upwards, spend a few moments slowly tensing, and then releasing, the muscles of each part of your body.

4) Spend time with friends. Being with people you like helps distract you from anxious thoughts and lifts your mood.

5) Help others. Research shows that even carrying out a small act of kindness, such as making a donation to charity, helps improve your mood and decreases stress.

6) Accept what you can’t change. There is no point dwelling on the past, or thinking about what can’t be altered. Instead, focus on how you can create a better future.

7) Smile more. Don’t take life too seriously, and improve your ability to cope with stressful situations by seeing the funny side of whatever happens.

8) Use lavender. Research shows that most people find the smell of lavender especially relaxing, and that it also helps them get a good night’s sleep.

9) Hit the gym. Exercise promotes the production of endorphins, which, in turn, make you feel better about yourself and become more relaxed.

10) Look at the sky. If it is a nice day, lie on the grass, look up at a clear sky, and allow positive thoughts and images to drift through your mind.

My goal today...try all 10. Or will that overload me and stress me out? Okay, maybe five!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Cause Marketing More Relevant in Tough Times

Last Friday, Procter & Gamble's Jim Stengel said the company plans to stick to its guns regarding "purpose branding," or building-brand propositions with cause-marketing overlays, according to Ad Age. Stengel said "It's more important than ever" amid turmoil in financial markets and growing consumer fear. "I would argue maybe we wouldn't be in such a mess if we were more purpose-centered in more organizations around the world."

The notion that small acts accumulate to achieve a greater good has a great deal of currency now. So cause marketing should hold up as a promotional premise. Why? The gas and credit crises are waking people up to the reality that they cannot separate themselves from these problems. Buying P & G products or shopping at Target helps people fit "the greater good" into their busy lives. I daresay, purchases without a cause overlay may leave consumers feeling empty, even a little guilty.

A while back, I posted research from Duke University that foresaw a decline in cause-marketing based on a survey of Chief Marketing Officer's who saw it as a frill. That was before the financial crisis. It'd be interesting to see what thay might say now. Perhaps CMO's are ready for some awakening.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Kuma's Corner Heavy Metal Burgers to Die For

I just returned from the gym where I did penance for a truly sinful act--I ate a heavy metal burger from Kuma's Corner. Yesterday, my daughter and I spent the day scuttling about the city on errands. It was 3PM before we realized we'd missed lunch. Gnawed by the kind of hunger that makes red meat seem like a good idea, we headed for Kuma's for burgers. 

You may remember that I swore off cheeseburgers last year. I had one lapse in Des Moines, which I sorely regretted because the burger was a gloppy, unremarkable mess. If I'm going to lapse, it has to be monstrously delicious. Kuma's Corner is now legendary for offering up such a burger in an ambiance thick will grill smoke, heavy metal music and biker-girl pinups on the walls. Monstrous. Delicious. Worth it.

Photo: The Iron Maiden burger my daughter ordered

Friday, October 17, 2008

Five Reasons Obama Deserves "Marketer of the Year"

The votes are in. Barack Obama has just been named "Marketer of the Year," according to Ad Age. He beat out killer brands such as Apple, Nike and even the turn-around story of the year Coors beer. There are five things Obama had going for him to earn such admiration:

1. It's the future, stupid. Obama bet on the future electorate and appealed first and foremost to a younger audience of voters. These digital natives have learned about tolerance in schools, summer camps and Online in multi-player games where diversity is an asset not a weakness. Their energy was infectious.

2. Forget viral, think forest fire. Some marketers have begun questioning whether the viral metaphor for marketing is past its prime. With voters feeling shut down and dismissed for seven years, it's a situation more like a dry forest. You can't be sure what will ignite the forest--a lit match, a spark, a flash of lightening. In our case, it was Barack Obama. It has swelled into a wildfire that will rage until Nov. 2. No amount of ice shipped in from Alaska, or Fox pundits pissing on it, or vintage machismo wisdom about how to fight such a fire will tamp it out.

3. Authenticity all the time. At the core of our organizing myth--the American Dream-- is the bootstrapper. Obama is that. But there is a difference between the American bootstrapper and instant soup. It was the injection of Sarah Palin into the campaign that gave Obama's campaign a powerful point of difference in that regard. People could see what lies at the farthest end of the spectrum of the American Dream. Apparently, they weren't willing to cash in their heritage of the dream for an add-water-and-stir candidate. Instead, people rallied around the genuine article...the guy who comes from nothing, educated himself and climbed the ladder rung by rung. It didn't matter that it was a step ladder, it was the acting of pulling himself up it that made it real.

4. Offers a blank canvas. The election fomented the rise of the renaissance generation like nothing else I've witnessed. The RenGen is a psychographic that is driven to create, do original work and make their mark. The Obama campaign got this. It encouraged artists to add their creations to the campaign. There were lots of simple ways to get involved. As I traveled the country this fall, I found lots of examples, from student-made Obama artwork decorating the halls of RISD, to originally designed Obama t-shirts created by the baristas of a Mocha Joe's cafe in Brattleboro VT. Any brand smart enough to offer blank canvas and encourage their customers to fill it with their own ideas understands how to build a RenGen brand.

5. Crushes the competition. Obama is like the first Toyotas sold to Americans after years of owning crappy cars from Detroit back in the 1970s. Obama owes some of his success to the fact that the competition, in this case the Republican party, was such a dismal failure in every regard. Many Americans view the Bush administration as the most bloated, expensive, stalled out, flat, out of gas, car wreck of an operation imaginable.

Congratulations to the Obama Campaign and thanks for teaching us so much.

Art work: Koolhats, from the Sante Fe Art District
Photo credit: Seetwist

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Where Ideas Come From: The Truth About Creativity

In an economy re-inventing itself, creativity is a crucial asset. But the dirty little secret about creativity is that it intimidates most of us. We’ve so mythologized the idea of creativity that we’ve turned a natural human drive into a burden‑-an unfortunate conundrum in an idea-based economy.

Among the widespread myths about creativity:

  • Creative people’s brains work differently.
  • Creative people can conjure something from nothing.
  • Creative egos demand a lot of stroking.
  • Hard work and fruitless effort can kill the creative force.

Dead wrong, all.

What makes creative people tick? Four personality traits appear to differentiate more creative from less creative people, according to John R. Hayes, a Carnegie Mellon professor of psychology and expert in creativity and cognition:

  1. Devotion to work
  2. Independence
  3. Drive to do original work
  4. Flexibility

A closer look at these traits will dispel some myths about creativity that can impede success in the workplace.

Myth 1: Creative people’s brains are wired differently. Research shows that people considered creative do not have higher IQs or earn better grades in school. No cognitive abilities are innate to “creatives.” Rather, all of the variables that distinguish creative people are motivational. The opportunity to do original work, the freedom to try and fail, and the chance to develop mastery are the incentives that drive them to work longer and harder than their peers. Sir Richard Branson, Paul McCartney, and Steve Jobs all have poor academic records, yet they built empires based on their creative drives.

Myth 2: Creative people can conjure something from nothing.

The creative process moves from the concrete to the abstract, not vice versa. That’s why goal setting is the pivotal element in creative projects. Spending time defining problems in ill-defined situations can be especially motivating to creative people. Also key is representing the problem visually. Sharing models, sketches, pictures, even color swatches, can trip the trigger for the creative process. Renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp starts every new dance with a box—filling it with pictures, news articles, CDs, and her scribbles. The box becomes a pushing off point.

Myth 3: Creative egos need to be coddled.

Yes and no. Serious creatives are self-critical. Spotting flaws in one’s own work, and taking action to correct them is a hallmark of creative people. Because creative performance is rooted in motivation, not cognitive intelligence, creatives are often driven to define and refine. As Thomas Edison said, “There’s a way to do it better ‑ find it.” Pixar seeks people not only masterful at hand-drawing, but also highly sociable ‑ with the flexibility to let others draw on top of their drawings. The idea that creative egos are fragile is up for revision. As our workplaces demand more idea generation, the talent that will rise to the top, and thereby set the norms, will have resilient egos that seek out critique.

Understanding how creativity works has helped me cultivate it. Whether collaborating on a Web site design or generating unorthodox marketing strategies, I try to surround myself with people excited to jump into problems, frame them, and re-do their work until it shines.

The turmoil and decline we are witnessing in American business are common conditions right before a renaissance. For American business to transform fully into an idea-driven economy, creativity will be an essential attribute. And in today’s work environment, where innovation is the new imperative, mastering the creative process will be everyone’s job.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gwen Stefani Turns Japanese with Harajuku Brand

Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Lovers fragrance is, in the pop star's words, all about "a fatal attraction to cuteness." But it's her brilliant fusion of social media and Karaoke that turned my head.

Gwen’s new fragrance line, Harajuku Lovers Fragrance, is a collaboration between COTY and LBi to launch a new interactive marketing campaign with a site that allows fans to record, upload, and share videos of themselves singing Karaoke to the Stefani hit, “Harajuku Girls.” The video is then instantly shared and made visible to everyone visiting the site.

Gwen Stefani says she fell in love with Japanese Harajuku-style pop culture back in 1996 on a visit to Tokyo. It's allure for her was, "the self-expressive nature of it." Very

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What is Don Draper Thinking?

If you're a fan of Mad Men, you may marvel at the iron clad decision-making prowess of Don Draper. His clarity is powerful. Well, it turns out that research shows that powerful people tend to ignore new information because they are so confident as people. Richard Petty, professor of Psychology at Ohio State says his study casts doubt on the classic assertion that "Power corrupts people and leads them to negative actions. Instead, what power does is make people more likely to unquestionably believe their own thoughts and act on them," says Petty.

Apparently both low- and high-power people may have negative thoughts at times, and think about doing something bad. But because high-power people are more confident in their thoughts – and less susceptible to countering views – they are more likely to follow through into action.
By the same token, if a powerful person has a positive, pro-social thought, she may be more likely to follow through on that thought and turn it into reality. “Powerful people are more likely to act on what they are thinking – good or bad – without second guessing themselves,” Petty says.

So, if you are planning to pitch a new idea, it's better to do so by presenting something counter-intuitive as an opener that leaves the decision maker feeling a little off balance. Or make your request in a neutral setting, not his or her office or board room which are often laden with the trappings of power.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sponsors Buy Into Multiple Touch Points

If you hope to sign sponsors in this climate, you must be offering a fully-integrated package. Period. Moreover, it's not about the size of the media package bundled into your offer, it's the number of facets: Website, emails, text messages, signage hospitality, point-of-purchase display, radio, and screen (tv, streaming video, etc.) round out a strong offer.

Now more than ever, sponsors feel urgency to reach customers through multiple touchpoints. Consider the recent bank deal National City Bank signed with the Detroit Pistons, inked after the U.S. Govt. bail-out. The Piston's package has push, pull and plenty of touch points for the sponsor.

Cleveland-based National City Bank will replace Rock Financial as the presenting sponsor for the Detroit Pistons this season, the team announced last week. National City is only the second presenting sponsor in Pistons’ history. This kind of extensive marketing arrangement is only used by a few teams in the National Basketball Association.

Under the deal, National City will be featured in all television, print, radio and Palace ads; on Pistons tickets, pocket schedules, staff uniforms and the team’s Web site; and on point-of-sale signage at all Locker Room stores.

The sponsorship will also provide benefits for National City’s customers. They will be able to get 20% off merchandise at official Pistons Locker Room stores and receive special offers through their National City Pistons check card and the bank’s rewards program.

As sponsors look hard at their media budgets, robust sponsorship packages that will deliver like surround-sound will have the most appeal.

source: Detroit Free Press

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Indian Summer

My favorite season is the briefest--Indian Summer. Grace Metalious, author of Peyton Place, captured it perfectly:

"Indian Summer is like a woman. Ripe, hotly passionate, but fickle. She comes and goes as she pleases, so that one is never sure if she will come at all. In Northern New England, Indian Summer puts up a scarlet tipped hand to hold the winter back a little."

Last week, I was in New England and it was just as Metalious described it. In Vermont the undulating green mountains were stippled ochre and orange. Stunning.

It's another Indian Summer day here in the Midwest. Only a few are left. I'm heading into the woods for a long walk.

(Photo is of my son and his best friend taken with my new Nikon, which is a peach of a camera.)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Reason to Cheer for the Chicago Marathon

It's time again for the Chicago Marathon. It's the first time in the 12 years we've been in business, that we have an employee in the race. Katie Darr recently joined us as my assistant. She's bright, hands-on and unflappable. (Can you feel my zen?)

Katie loves a challenge. She's facing a biggee on Sunday when she will endure 26 feet-pounding miles.

Run Katie, run!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Palin Agrees to Appear on SNL

I'm marking my calendar for Oct. 25 for a comedy extravaganza. That's when Sarah Palin goes on Saturday Night Live. And Lorne Michaels, in rapture over SNL ratings for Tina Fey's side-splitting impersonation's of the Jane Six-Pack, hockey mom, would be President...ooops, I mean Vice-President, is reportedly delighted to be hosting this October surprise. No confirmation from the McCain-Palin campaign so far. New York Post ran with the story, so I figure, why not?

I'll watch for the same reason there's such a thing as gapers block. Sarah Palin is an accident waiting to happen, so the dramatic tension mixed with comedic potential is just too tempting to resist.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama, bought 30 minutes of network TV time to do a docu-drama on the economic collapse. I wonder who will win in the ratings?

Chicken Coops Hot Real Estate in Down Market

Forget McMansions or the sleek modern homes that grace the pages of Dwell Magazine. The hot new real estate in the freakish property market is a chicken coop.

I first spotted the trend on a visit to L.A. where I caught up with an old friend and novelist,
Sally Nemeth. The backyard of her cozy hacienda in Echo Park features an airy bungalow for her two hens. The birds produce two, maybe four fresh eggs a day. If you've ever tasted a fresh egg, its like the difference between a fresh tomato and a store-bought one. World's apart.

With a little scratching around I discovered a large stash of articles and websites devoted to the topic of raising backyard hens. Seems Sally's part of a growing trend of people who raise the backyard fowl to harvest fresh eggs and eat local--super local.

It's only natural that the equipment demands would trigger something of a consumer boomlet in hen houses. Designs, kits, DIY manuals. It's a fusion of back-to-nature self-sufficiency and conspicuous consumption. Whether this is part of the locavore movement, or an economic backstop, it's pretty clear that American families are taking more control over the food in their daily lives. Look for pressure on more urban districts to loosen bans on raising backyard foul.

photo courtesy of Justy

Thursday, October 9, 2008

English Beyond the Palin

It was perhaps an ethnic thing that made my mother insist we speak, "The King's English" in our home. She's Irish, and has all sorts of rigid notions about class and being classy.

Listening to Sarah Palin recently, I felt myself cringing with every "You betcha and we're gonna." It's a reflex I've developed after years of being set straight. I suppose after the last seven years it doesn't seem to bother most Americans. We live in a casual culture. But it has been duly noted overseas, most stridently by the Irish Times. Perhaps it's an ethnic thing.

This chalk drawing/photo courtesy of the Tacoma Urbanist.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Why Deadlines are Helpful

No matter what's in the news, I'm staying focused on work. The election, the economy, the war--all disturbing stuff. But obsessing surely makes it worse. This week, I am facing a staggering round of deadlines. Good!

I recently discovered the etymology of the word "deadline." During the Civil War, there was a POW camp at Andersonville, Georgia. A wartime shortage of building materials meant the camp had no fence around it. So to keep the prisoners inside, the general in charge ordered that a line be drawn the dirt encircling the camp. He told the prisoners that this was the “deadline” meaning if they crossed it, they would be shot on sight.

Deadline...under the gun...serious words for keeping busy, blissfully busy.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Future is Now

I wear glasses, but metaphorically I'm no longer far-sighted. I used to think I had a gift for seeing into the future. But having just completed the RenGen on the Road tour, my audiences taught me that much of what I was forecasting is already being lived. New York, Boston and Providence were tour dates that occurred amidst the unraveling of the financial markets. Audiences looked shell shocked, pensive, and also deeply in need of some reassuring. "Yes, Virginia...there is a renaissance."

Seth Godin blogged today about the power of future perfect. That is, when marketers make projections that seem be very nearly here it motivates people. I suppose I could feel smug about my predictions coming true so swiftly, but instead I just feel a sense of wonderment. And I feel ever more connected to my fellow man/woman.

We are all in this now. The spiral has momentum. My To-Do list for this interlude between death and rebirth reads like this:
1. Keep your knees soft.
2. Show a little compassion.
3. Experiment.

Simple enough.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Credit Crisis Poisons Corporate Sponsorship Well

The fallout from the credit crunch is starting to be felt in sponsorship marketing. Most acutely effected are the financial services giants who were aggressive players in a broad range of investments, from the arts to pro-sports. AIG is pulling out of deals core to its European strategy: rugby, football (soccer) and golf. WaMu's entertainment sponsorship strategy will ride the coat tails of deals it's already financed, but any new initiatives are being erased from the white boards, according to Charlie Scharf of JP Morgan Chase, who is helping to manage the absorption of the failing WaMu into Morgan Chase.

How to survive in this mess as we wait for the next shoe to fall? Here are three things you can do to save your sanity and sponsorship portfolio:

1. Be proactive. Remember, good sponsors are your business partners. So, call your current sponsors and ask how they are doing. Offer moral support and be willing to discuss new terms. Yes, if they need different payment terms, be open to it if you can. Remember, it is easier to keep a sponsor than find a new one. Of course, if the sponsor's company is tanking, there's little you can do, but I would resist the temptation to watch in horror on the sidelines. Consider that some personnel may leave the failing operation only to resurface elsewhere.

2. Help more with activation. Some sponsors will not be willing to cash in the brand equity they've earned with their sponsorship alliances. Especially title deals. Cadillac will want to keep its ties to the Cadillac Award for Audience Choice of Best Feature Film, yes? But it may want to cut the cost of promoting the tie. So look hard at your own media, especially Web-based media and see where you can deliver more to help your corporate sponsor stay involved.

3. Get out of the house. Forging corporate sponsorship deals is a contact sport. Every single contact you currently work with has a Rolodex. Or is Linked In to some extent. Get out there or invite folks in to visit or tour a new, uplifting initiative. Being compassionate when people's businesses are hurting is the right thing to do, but it can also help you gain access to a sponsor's network. Often, sponsors develop their own emotional ties to the properties they invest in, that is if you've done your job right. So, they hate walking away leaving you empty handed. The warm leads you can win in these times may be your best hope for next year.

Above all, remain hopeful. Keep in mind the longer view is quite positive. This is the point in our civilization where we shed what is no longer useful to create a new world order based on a very different exchange of value and a redefinition of currency. Yes, the RenGen is upon us, so take heart.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Debate Coverage Points to Shift

It's a rainy day and I'm seeking refuge in a local cafe in Bennington, Vermont. Smells heavenly--thick with cocoa beans. The clientele has that rugged, outdoorsy look you'd expect from rural Vermonters. But their conversation is crisp and sophisticated. One woman strolls in with her New York Times and a group forms a hive around her buzzing. What did the Grey Lady say about the Alaskan lady's performance last night? The woman reads aloud from the front page. Then she drifts off into a "Blah, blah, blah."

"This is the kind of namby-pamby coverage they gave the other debate!" she crows. People mutter. From the back of the cafe an older gentleman surprises us all by shouting, "Biden kicked her ass! Did they say that...well, not in so many words?"

For my part, I watched the PBS coverage last night and witnessed a chastened David Brooks pour a warm bath of kindly remarks for Ms. Palin. I wondered if he was reversing his previous opinion that she is dangerously inexperienced.

Back to the din brewing in the cafe....

A woman with a small child pipes up telling the group that the Today Show held a mini-town hall meeting this morning with moms to hear their verdict on who won the debate.

A light bulb goes on for me. Web 2.0 is fundamentally changing the news. How? By changing the way it gets reported. Essentially, this woman's description of the Today Show coverage tells me that news sources are going out asking the community to form judgements. Are the experts capitulating to the power of the Web by mimicking its collective commentary from average Joes and Janes?

As reporters grow ever more sheepish that if they pose tough questions and provocative points of view, they will they be benched by the candidates--if the media becomes a mere megaphone for people to tell it like it is--then what's the role for media? Just the facts? Well, we can get facts from lots of places.

A guy walks into the cafe with his black lab. The dog lies down while his master's espresso is being brewed. The pooch draws a heavy sigh as he plops his head onto crossed paws. I second that emotion.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Giving Up Coffee

Few things compare to the sensory mother lode associated with drinking coffee. A heavy user, I was beyond loyal to my local Starbucks, I was in love. Alas, the time has come to quit drinking coffee. Doctor's orders.

Mine is a life fueled by caffeine and adrenaline, so the thought of just stopping might seem overwhelming, right? Surprisingly it wasn't. Like an obedient school girl I just stopped cold turkey. Instead, the challenge is brewing up a new inner chemistry. My adrenaline/coffee co-dependency had always worked wonders for me. In a pinch I could leap into action, heart racing, full of zeal to fix anything, solve any problem, jerk either knee.

Now, I am on my own. I realized this on day five of the "no-coffee" regimen. It was a day filled with deadlines and surprises: client presentation, wrong color binding on a report, and a flat tire.

In the days of the bottomless cuppa Joe, I'd have been stressing out. But remarkably, I was calm. It all got fixed. The day unfolded. I got through it.

No more coffee means more calm--less freak out. Great. But it also means finding a new groove. I still yearn for the kick in the pants coffee delivers. I've taken to green tea in all its manifestations. I've even ritualized it with fresh lemon and fancy teacups. But like passing by an old lover's house, I drive by Starbucks and feel a certain twinge. I suppose this is what Kevin Roberts means by Love Marks.

Photo credit: Jen Chan